Today may have been our most productive day since coming to Cass Lake. Ben Dropkin and Jidi visited the Indian health advocacy specialist at Sanford Hospital (staying for half-a-day each), while Ayo and Margaret shadowed providers at Cass Lake Indian Health Clinic. Sanford is a gorgeous hospital with 118 beds located in Bemidji, particularly in contrast with the local socioeconomic situation as we know it. Vikki Howard is the advocacy specialist, and she couldn’t have been more warm and generous in taking the two of us around the hospital and showing us the different departments, introducing us to providers and patients, and explaining to us the local state of health care as well as various aspects of Native American culture, language, and history. For example, it is believed by many Indian patients, particularly the elderly ones, that we are constantly surrounded by spirits, both good and evil; the good ones, which include deceased family members and friends, must be welcomed, while the evil ones need to be warded off with much effort. Similarly, it is believe that traditional medicine, such as different types of plants, need to be worshipped and communicated with in order for them to be effective; as Vicky said, “We need to build a relationship with the medicine, before it works for us.” The entire session with Vikki offered an insightful perspective on health care from the nurse and social worker’s side, as well as a fascinating and honest introduction to the Ojibwe culture.
Post-shadowing, the four of us grabbed a quick bite with the one and only Shawn O’Leary and his dad at a casino restaurant (where Ayo had a stack of BBQ ribs to warm up for his actual dinner at a Chinese buffet 2 hours later). Afterwards, we got working on the real reason why we were at the casino: to run a blood pressure screening for the casino patrons and (covertly) perform motivational speeches. After much confusion in the beginning with the security guard as far as who we were and why we were there, we got a table set-up in the back for the casino employees, and a table upfront across from the main entrance to catch the patrons as soon as they enter. We worked from 6~8pm, and screened more than 50 people of all ages (that can legally enter the casino). We even (almost) got a couple of people to quit smoking for good (no guarantees, but we did our best.) I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that just about everyone smoked, some even while pregnant or with young children at home. Interestingly, folks who had hypertension were much more reluctant to participate, while those who know that they have healthy BP were much more eager to join us. I suppose it is human nature to want to ignore problems that you know full-well exist and try to pretend that they are not there by not partaking in activities that blatantly remind you that, yes, you indeed have those problems and that they carry serious consequences.
Alright, enough blogging for one night. It is 10:28pm as I type this sentence, and we need to be up at 6am for a presentation for middle schoolers on measures one can take to eat more healthily (clearly a major lifestyle challenge for many if not most local residents that we’ve encountered.) Good night!